Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has repeatedly urged Republican voters around the country to just check out his record in the Florida when they step in the voting booth to cast their ballot in the 2024 GOP presidential primary.
“If you look at what we’ve done in Florida … we’ve taken all those ideas and we’ve actually turned those into concrete victories,” DeSantis boasted to an Iowa audience this past May. “We need to usher in an American revival,” he claimed on Fox News this past week. “What we did in Florida is a model that can work for the country.”
Sure, Ron, let’s look at what you’ve done.
“Florida is unlike many other states because of its fast growth, aging population and dependence on migrants for both skilled and unskilled labor,” The Miami Herald reports. “But a beefed-up state law that attempts to crack down on undocumented labor is exacerbating the deep hole in the work force that may take years to close.”
That anti-immigrant law, S.B. 1718, was passed by the GOP legislature to aid DeSantis’ 2024 prospects. But not only has it failed to boost his flailing presidential campaign (wait, online trolling isn’t an effective electoral strategy?), it’s hurt major industries in the state – such as agriculture, hospitality, and construction – that depend on the work of migrant workers and were already struggling to fill vacant positions. We’ve detailed some of the DeSantis effect already. It’s only getting worse.
“Greg Batista, founder and owner of G. Batista Engineering & Construction, has seen the effect of the new laws first hand,” the Miami Herald newly reports. He shared that construction worker shortages in the Miami-Dade region mean projects are now taking double the usual time to complete. “He attributed much of the problem to the exodus of construction workers from Florida.”
“They’re just picking up and leaving to a state where they’re more friendly towards migrants, where they don’t have to be looking over their shoulder every 10 seconds and saying, ‘Look, I’m going have to go to be deported, going to go to jail, or I’m going to be fined,’” Batista told the outlet.
DeSantis’ S.B. 1718 has also chased away the recovery workers that had helped the state recover from natural disasters in the past. Resilience Force, described by the New York Times as “a nonprofit group that organizes disaster recovery workers and offers them safety training,” was instrumental in helping the state recover from Hurricane Irma in 2017 and Hurricane Michael in 2018.
But due to fears that its largely immigrant workforce may become entangled in Ron DeSantis’ anti-immigrant S.B. 1718 law, the group said it would not return to the state to aid in Idalia recovery, the Times reports. “Floridians will need thousands of skilled disaster recovery workers to rebuild their homes after Idalia, but they may not get them,” Resilience Force Executive Director Saket Soni said in the report. “These workers are overwhelmingly immigrants,” he continued. Soni told CNN that these essential recovery workers fear consequences from Florida’s law. “No amount of money would be worth it if it meant they would be incarcerated or deported.”
None of this should come at any surprise. Even the bill’s own GOP supporters in the state legislature acknowledged the law is scaring away immigrants. “We are losing employees,” a panicked Rick Roth told a community meeting in June. “They’re already starting to move to Georgia and other states.”
Florida is actually a prime example of immigrants’ importance to the U.S. workforce and economy. “According to a 2021 analysis of U.S. Census data by the policy research and polling firm KFF, undocumented workers in Florida made up 11% of the state’s workforce, including 37% of all agriculture workers, 23% of construction workers, 14% of service workers, and 14% of transportation workers,” the Miami Herald continued. In Miami-Dade – where Batista said construction projects are lagging due to shortages – an astounding 65% of the workforce is foreign-born.
U.S.-born workers are not filling the void, either. Jeff Lozama, CEO of glazing contractor CMS Group, told the Miami Herald that of the job fairs his company has participated in, the most successful one was in a neighborhood with a large Haitian population. “There were busloads of immigrants that showed up,’’ Lozama said in the report. “It just tells you how important that immigrant population is.”
We’ve already seen this story play out, too. Back in 2011, GOP lawmakers in Alabama modeled their anti-immigrant proposal after the notorious “papers, please” law passed by Arizona the year prior. “Initially, HB 56 succeeded in driving undocumented immigrants out of the state in droves,” BuzzFeed News reported in 2014. Driving out, you know, the same laborers who feed us. The U.S.-born workers that the bill’s proponents fervently claimed would fill these jobs never showed, and those who did show up quit after hours on the job.
Roth, the GOP lawmaker in Florida who admitted S.B. 1718 has scared away workers, also stated that the law was simply “meant to scare” people. But a number of immigrants have already been arrested under the law, raising fears about how it’s being enforced. “The fact that only Hispanics have been detained is concerning, [immigration advocate Ana Lamb] said, because it suggests racial profiling,” the Orlando Sentinel reported this month.
That fear is a major reason why immigration advocates were among a host of voices that issued advisories warning against travel to the state. But when the NAACP issued its advisory in May, DeSantis’ campaign dismissed it as a “stunt,” while campaign staffer Christina Pushaw mocked, “Does this mean no Urban Beach Week?” Later that summer, a racist gunman carrying a swastika-emblazoned assault weapon targeted and murdered Black shoppers at a store in Jacksonville. Despite this tragedy, DeSantis has only further embraced violent rhetoric.